Beyond GDP: what do citizens want for Social Europe 2030?

9 December 2009

Sotiria Theodoropoulou, EPC Policy Analyst, asked how far research on defining and measuring well-being can enlighten European social policy-makers’ choices. Recent research argues that defining “social progress” should move ‘beyond GDP’ to focus on ‘quality to life’, an amalgam of objective and subjective factors, and that EU citizens want more ‘social Europe’.

According to EPC research the most important determinants of life satisfaction are: income levels, health satisfaction and job satisfaction. More information is needed on what elements citizens would be prepared to trade off, the most important elements for improving life satisfaction; and what determines life satisfaction for particular groups within the population.

Eric Harrison, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Comparative Social Surveys, City University, UK, said the European Social Survey (ESS), which is a five-year research project, uses many social surveys to determine citizens’ well-being. The National Accounts of Well-Being research programme which uses ESS date suggests that a sense of ‘well-being’ includes a personal (individual) and societal (community)aspect, such as trust, social cohesion, having local networks and building up ‘social capital’.

Antonio Papacostas, European Commission, showed how EU surveys demonstrate that European citizens’ concerns fluctuate over time between unemployment, the economic situation, crime and inflation, but often this does not correspond to the external situation.

Looking at citizens’ hopes and expectations for 2030, two-thirds think life will be more difficult, 55% are very pessimistic, and 54% think it will be difficult to find a job. They expect people to be concerned about the environment, want more social solidarity and want to spend more time with their families. Forty-five percent saw the EU as an important economic, rather than political power.

Conny Reuter, President of the Platform of Social NGOs and Secretary-General of SOLIDAR, took up the ECC survey result mentioned by the first speaker, saying there should be more social Europe as 82 million Europeans live in or at the edge of poverty and 19 million working people earn so little that they also live in poverty.

Many citizens feel insecure about globalisation and the economic crisis, and it seems that policy-makers still focus on growth and jobs, whereas they should take economic, environmental and social sustainability into account. “We need more social, and more Europe”.